Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, known as the Crown of the Andes,
Made in Colombia, Popayán
Ca. 1660 (diadem) and ca. 1770 (arches),
Gold, repoussé and set with emeralds
Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.
Reflection on the crown
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to the dogma that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without any stain of Original Sin in preparation for becoming the Mother of God, her Son Jesus Christ. In 1854, Pope Pius IX's solemn declaration, "Ineffabilis Deus," clarified with finality the long-held belief of the Church that Mary was conceived free from original sin. Mary was granted this extraordinary privilege because of her unique role in the history of Salvation. This is day for us to celebrate the great joy of God’s gift to humanity in Mary, and to recognise with greater clarity the truth that each and every human being has been created by God to fulfil a particular mission that he or she only can fulfil. We each have been given unique talents and a unique mission to achieve something unique for God.
When the Spaniards arrived in 16th-century South America, they encountered a rich and thriving indigenous tradition of gold working that had developed over the course of millennia. Unfortunately, many, if not most, pre-Columbian works in gold were melted down in the 16th & 17th centuries; their precious metal was, however, repurposed for new religious and secular leaders both in Spain and the Americas.
This crown was made to adorn a sacred image of the Virgin Mary venerated in the cathedral of Popayán (Colombia). The crown is a symbol of the Virgin’s divine queenship. The gold crown is decorated with vine motifs set with emerald clusters in the shape of flowers, a reference to her purity. The diadem is topped by imperial arches and a cross-bearing orb that symbolises Christ’s dominion over the world. It has been common practice around the world to bestow lavish gifts, including jewels and sumptuous garments, on sculptures of the Virgin Mary. The Christian faithful have always sought to honour the Virgin Mary through beautiful works of art as a profound expression of devotion and reverence. These artistic expressions served not only as visual aids for prayer and contemplation but also as a tangible way for the faithful to connect with the divine through the beauty and grace associated with Mary.
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